NASHVILLE, Tenn. – New Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur has a vision, and if all goes well, it will produce winning results for the offense, and quarterback Marcus Mariota.
It doesn’t sound like he plans on doing it with a “three yards and a cloud of dust” approach.
LaFleur said on Wednesday he thinks it’s extremely important for the team to be aggressive when it has the football. He pointed to last weekend’s Super Bowl between the Eagles and Patriots as an example.
“It is extremely difficult to dink and dunk all the way down the field,” LaFleur said. “The defenses are just too good. If you look at it, statistically the teams that are getting the chunk plays, the explosive (plays), those are the teams that are going to produce more yards, more points.
“Ultimately, the yards really don’t matter. So you have to score enough points, and I have been fortunate in my career to have been around some really good play callers, starting with Gary Kubiak and then going with Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, and that was always at the forefront of our minds: How can we create explosive plays?”
LaFleur, hired last month, met with reporters on Wednesday at Saint Thomas Sports Park. He thanked new Titans head coach Mike Vrabel for the opportunity, and McVay, head coach of the Rams, for the chance to take a job where he could call plays for the first time in his career.
LaFleur said he’s in the process of evaluating personnel, and said ultimately his plan will be tailored to the team’s players, including Mariota. He said the offense will be a collaborative effort from the entire staff.
He did give some clues on what things could look like moving forward. LaFleur served as offensive coordinator with the Rams last season.
“There’s always going to be a foundation, and the foundation really starts with our running game and how we tie the pass game to our running game,” LaFleur said. “We want to keep the defense off-balance, you have to keep them guessing. If you have plays that start out looking the same that are different, it keeps the defense guessing.”
Asked about an ideal run-pass ratio, LaFleur said “it is all predicated on each game.”
“Some games teams are going to sell out and stop the run, so you might have those actions to try and draw them up to create the explosives off of that,” he said. But I think on first and second down in normal situations, you want to be 50-50 if at all possible. And it kinds of gets skewed based on what you are doing on third down and the red zone, situational ball, two-minute mode, that is where it gets a little bit out of whack. But if we can stay balanced on first and second down, in normal situations, I think we’ll be OK.”
In 2017, the Rams became the only team in the Super Bowl era, which began in 1966, to go from last to first in scoring from one season to the next. The only other team throughout history to accomplish that feat was the 1965 49ers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In 2016, the Rams averaged 14.0 points per game under Jeff Fisher. Their point total more than doubled -- to 29.9 ppg -- under McVay and LaFleur.
The Rams led the NFL in scoring in 2017. LaFleur was instrumental in quarterback Jared Goff’s development. Goff threw for 3,804 yards with 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions in 2017 en route to reaching the Pro Bowl. Running back Todd Gurley led the NFL in scrimmage yards (2,093) in 2017, was second in rushing yards (1,305).
“We are not just going to go out there and run a bunch of plays,” he said. “We want a system, we want to have a consistency within our offense so our guys get used to running the same types of plays so they can go out and execute, and play fast. If you can go out there and eliminate the thinking that’s involved, eliminate the gray where they can go out and play fast and execute, I think you have a much better chance for success.”
As for Mariota, LaFleur said he likes what he’s seen, and heard.
Mariota, heading into his fourth NFL season, has already thrown for 9,476 yards with 58 touchdowns and just 34 interceptions. However, he’s coming off a season when he threw a career-high 15 interceptions, with 13 touchdowns, while posting the lowest passer rating (79.3) of his career.
“You can see the talent he possesses,” LaFleur said of Mariota. “There’s really three prerequisites to playing the position. No. 1, you have to be a natural thrower. You better be fearless in the pocket, be able to stand in there. And then the last one is those intangibles. I think he possesses all of those…. We’re going to be extremely detailed with his fundamentals and his footwork, because I think that leads to more consistent quarterback play.
“I think he is a natural thrower. There will be different techniques we will implement with him, but it is more or less getting him consistent with his footwork and his mechanics, because I think that ultimately leads to better quarterback play.”
Communication – and protecting the QB -- will be key.
“Our communication is going to be absolutely critical to all of our success here. So (I) just reiterated to him – if there’s something you don’t feel comfortable doing, I want you to tell me. And I know it is kind of against his nature, because he is such a good person… I just don’t want him to hold back with anything,” LaFleur said.
“The first thing we are very conscious of is: How can we protect the quarterback? He has to do a good job of being smart… He is such a competitor, and you see it on the tape, he is fighting for some extra yards where I would rather him preserve himself and get down.”
LaFleur is ready to go, and he smiled on Wednesday when the phrase “Matt LaFleur playbook” was mentioned.
He’s going to need patience, however. The Titans don’t start the offseason program until April 2, and organized team activities won’t begin until weeks later.
Training camp will kick off in late July.
“I am very excited,” he said. “This is something when you get into the coaching profession, you are always looking for that next step. In L.A., I think Sean McVay is one of the best play-callers there is in the NFL, and I don’t see him giving that up any time soon. To get this opportunity, I couldn’t be more excited.”